Search records

Henry Bloom Noble

Epithet: Property developer, banker and public benefactor (1816-1903)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

That Henry Bloom Noble had a major impact on Island life is evident from eponymous institutions such as Noble's Isle of Man Hospital, Noble's Park and the original Noble's Hospital, now the Manx Museum. Less familiar Noble benefactions include St Ninian's Church in Douglas and Ramsey Cottage Hospital, while Villa Marina, the great man's residence for 35 years, became the entertainment centre in the heyday of the tourist industry, and many educational initiatives owe their existence to him. Such was Noble's wealth in later life that he could rescue the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company from financial difficulties, make a substantial loan to Douglas Corporation when cash ran short, and even raise the funds to restore confidence in a badly shaken bank.

But the man is a paradox, if not an enigma. His baptismal name was Henry Noble: the Bloom came later. In a remarkable story of 'rags to riches', a poverty-stricken infancy in an English village nurtured a prodigy of Victorian enterprise who flourished on Manx soil. Though pre-eminent in the world of business, Noble lived unostentatiously and did not aspire to high public office. His long life was dedicated to the ruthless pursuit of wealth, yet his huge fortune was left to charity. He never courted popularity, but won his place as the Island's greatest benefactor.

He was born at the village of Clifton in Westmorland and baptised plain Henry Noble on 18th June 1816, the eldest son of impoverished tenant farmer John Noble and his wife Mary.

John Noble had arrived at Clifton in 1803 with cash in his pocket from a land sale a few miles away, but by the time he married Mary at Clifton Church in January 1815, 35-year-old John's money and luck had run out. Unknown to his bride, he had even been arrested in London for debt.

Mary was almost 40 and had problems of her own. Her late father had run the Earl of Lonsdale's prestigious carpet factory at nearby Lowther for many years, but had never been paid his due. Recently widowed and living with her elderly mother, Mary feared she would soon be left on her own with little money.

So when John and Mary arrived at the village church for their nuptials that winter's day, each thought the other a better prospect than was actually the case. Disillusionment was not far off when little Henry came on the scene, followed in 1817 by a brother called Thomas.

By early 1818 John and Mary Noble were living apart; he with Henry in miserable lodgings, and she with baby Thomas. They were 'as near hungered to death as can be', as John put it in a despairing letter to the Earl of Lonsdale.

John had heard about the death of a customs official at Whitehaven, and he appealed to the Earl to give him the job. Reunited, he and Mary were soon on their way to the busy sea-port where little Thomas died, aged just two and a half.

Young Henry excelled at school in Whitehaven and got a job with a respected firm, Spittall's, wine and spirit merchants in the town. They also had premises on the Isle of Man and at the age of nineteen he was on his way over. He was later to recall that he stepped ashore from a schooner on Douglas quayside in 1835 'in clogs and with a single pair of breeches, and they patched'.

It was a good time for an ambitious young man to be landing in Douglas. The Steam Packet Company had started up in 1830, the lead mines were booming and tourism was starting, with new buildings going up and the wine and spirits trade profiting as a result.

And Henry Bloom Noble - already acknowledging his mother's influence by using her name - was certainly ambitious. Within five years he was managing Spittall's whole Douglas enterprise, and by the age of 25 had set up in opposition to them, as well as launching out into property speculation and advertising himself as a money lender.

Later going into shipping in his early 40s, Henry was reputed to be the richest man on the Island. He was still unmarried and living with his octogenarian mother, but at the age of 45 he married Rebecca Thompson, two years his junior, at Braddan.

In 1865 Henry and four other influential businessmen founded the Isle of Man Banking Company. in the same year he donated a magnificent stained glass window - then the finest in the Isle of Man - to St George's Church in Douglas.

In 1868 he paid £1/50 for the Villa Marina mansion house on Douglas seafront, the former residence of Governor Pigott, and moved in with his wife and mother and their staff. Mary Noble died there the following year, aged 93.

In 1886 Henry financed the construction of the original Noble's Hospital in Douglas, the building which now houses the Manx Museum. The foundation stone was laid by Rebecca on 26th July 1886; she died less than two years later.

But business was never far from Henry Bloom Noble's mind. In 1888 he came to the rescue of the struggling Isle of Man Steam Packet Company with a £20,000 loan. Anticipating a demand for public ownership of the Douglas Waterworks Company, he had acquired a controlling interest in the company and was its chairman when the Douglas Town Council set out to buy it in 1890. The waterworks company set a figure of £146,000. After unsuccessful efforts at negotiation, the council's cheque, drawn on Dumbell's Bank, was passed to Henry, who rejected it in favour of cash!

In 1900 Dumbell's Bank crashed, ruining investors and tradesmen and keeping the accountants busy for the next 20 years. Signs of a 'run' on the Isle of Man Banking Company - Noble's bank - were checked when he said he was prepared to back it with all the resources at his disposal. The credit of Douglas itself was shaken by the collapse of Dumbell's Bank, and Henry stepped in with a loan of £40,000. It was his last big deal.

Henry Bloom Noble died at the Villa Marina on 2nd May 1903. He had come a long way from his poverty-stricken childhood in Clifton, but his birthplace got a mention on his imposing memorial in Braddan Churchyard.

He turned out to be worth over £270,000 - more than £10 million at early 21st century rates. He held the mortgages on 42 properties and had stocks and shares in 42 companies, including the Isle of Man Banking Co., Douglas Gas Light Co., Isle of Man Steam Packet Co., Great Laxey Mining Co., Snaefell Mining Co., Douglas Town Stock and Ramsey Town Stock. He had nearly £10,000 in cash at the bank. Apart from the Villa Marina, he owned 32 houses between Castletown and Laxey, along with 20 shops, thirteen gardens and 29 plots of land. The large Sefton Hotel in Douglas came into Henry's estate soon after his death when the owners went bankrupt with massive debts in his favour.

Henry's will caused a stir. Apart from a few small bequests to his staff and relatives on his late wife's side, he left everything to charity. £10,000 was set aside to build St Ninian's Church in Douglas, but the bulk of the estate was left with trustees for distribution as they saw fit. Funded entirely by them, Ramsey Cottage Hospital opened in 1907 and Noble's Park, Douglas, in 1909. The Villa Marina was sold to Douglas Corporation for £60,000 and redeveloped as a major entertainment centre.

Noble's Hospital in Westmoreland Road was opened in 1912 at an eventual cost of £52,000. Nearly as much went on various educational initiatives, including university scholarships and places at King William's College, and £33,000 was spent on a children's home in Douglas.

Henry Bloom Noble was a stocky man just 5ft. 6ins. tall. He was a highly intelligent and industrious individual who seized his opportunities to become the most successful Manx businessman of the time, despite - or perhaps because of - his poor start in life across the water. While his assiduous pursuit of wealth did not always endear him to his contemporaries, his posthumous reputation was assured by the terms of his will.

But not everyone was happy with the will. Back at Clifton the eccentric Revd Keys-Wells reached for his parish register and red ink, and scrawled across the 1816 record of Henry's baptism: 'This man went to the Isle of Man, died there and left a large sum of money for charitable and other purposes but nothing to the place of his birth!'

Biography written by John Sharpe.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.346-8.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1816

Date of death: 2 May 1903

Name Variant: Noble, Henry Bloom, Mr


Optional, not displayed

Manx National Heritage (MNH) will always put you in control of the information we send you. Read our privacy policy